Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Lots of Action in the House Today

We are still waiting for some big bills to make their way through committees. Many of the education bills the VEA is following were referred to the money committees, so they are caught up in those committees. The big action today was in two subcommittees: House Education Innovation Sub and House Appropriations Elementary and Secondary Education Sub.

The very early starting Innovation sub had a long docket of bills including the VEA initiated HB2332. This bill adds language making the goal of the Commonwealth teacher salaries that are competitive with the national average. Delegate Tyler is carrying this for us. Interestingly the subcommittee didn’t think the goal was big enough and Delegate Greason amended the bill to include the line “at or above the National Average.” The bill reported unanimously and will be in front of the full committee tomorrow morning. Clearly our legislators are listening to us. Now we need to see if they are willing to put money where their mouths are. Delegate Greason mentioned that he expects us to be happy when we see the House budget on Sunday. He didn’t say any more than that, so we will see.

Also in the sub was Delegate Landes’ HB2342 which is a bill to establish regional charter schools. What is really interesting in this year’s charter school bill is that all of the funding for any charter school would come from the state and Federal government. There is no requirement that a locality would put any money towards the school or that any local money would follow the student. It will be interesting to see how the Appropriations Committee will react. We all know that current per-pupil SOQ funding will not afford a school and everything it takes to run it. Not sure where Virginia would find all the additional funds to support any charter school (there is language in the bill that allows charters to see grant funding, but that would have to be quite a large grant). It will be something when the state realizes how far just SOQ money gets you… By the way, not far. The bill reported and was referred to Appropriations for a review.

A bill that would add yet another requirement to teacher licenses narrowly reported from the subcommittee. Like so many bills before it, HB1829, is well intended. The bill would add that when seeking an initial license or a renewal, an applicant would need to complete hands on CPR training. Right now current language requires CPR, first aid, and AED training, but it’s not hands on. The VEA certainly sees value in having all of our teachers have hands on training, but with no funding and no plan to make it happen, the burden of cost, time, and opportunity would fall on the teacher. VEA opposes this type of license requirement.

Delegate John Bell had HB1807 in the sub today. VEA appreciates him for highlighting this issue and bringing forward this legislation again this year. This bill would restore the option of a three-person panel in teacher grievance and dismissal cases. It also attempts to restore more appropriate timeframes for notification. Unfortunately, the bill was killed and VEA was reminded that the “good work” “we all” did in 2013 should not be eroded. The VEA thinks Delegate Bell for the attempt.
The House Appropriations Sub on Elementary and Secondary Education was the other hot ticket today. Bills killed included HB1764 which is Delegate Bulova’s Virtual School bill he carried at the request of the Governor. Delegate Dickie Bell’s Virtual School bill made it out of the subcommittee. Last year the Governor vetoed Bell’s identical bill on Constitutional grounds. Bulova’s bill was the Governor’s attempt to reach a compromise on Virtual Schools in VA. In good news, the Senators carrying the same legislation are working together to get a compromise bill both sides can live with (SB1380 which is the Governor’s bill being carried by Senator Peterson and SB1240 which is Senator Dunnavant’s version of Delegate Bell’s bill). We haven’t seen language, yet, but we are hopeful.

Delegate LaRock’s voucher bill HB1605 made its way out of subcommittee even with an annual price tag of more than $300,000. It will make its way to the floor on Thursday and we will make sure our friends in the House know how to vote.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools on Life Support

Today it seems as though, barring unusual action Friday by the full House Privileges and Elections Committee, the Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools is breathing its very last breaths.

If you remember, this is an attempt to change the Virginia Constitution. Currently, the Constitution grants the local school boards the authority to administer the local public schools. This includes the authority to approve charter schools. Senator Obenshain and Delegate Robert Bell each brought resolutions (bills) to amend the VA Constitution so that the state Board of Education would have the authority to grant charters to schools in any school division they choose. These charter schools would then operate in, and be funded through, the local school division. 

Last week Senator Obenshain struck his version of the bill in committee. We thought at that time that the Senator was concerned about not having the votes to pass the legislation in the Senate and he would wait for the House version to come over. Today, the House version was laid on the table in sub-committee. So, barring the full committee picking the bill off of the table Friday at their 9:30am meeting, the House version is dead. Check back for an update on Friday, but it will sure be nice to not have to worry about this bill in its second year during the 2018 session.

As we approach crossover in just over a week, all of the subcommittees are frantically working through their bills in order to get them to the full committees. Today the House Education committee took up many bills that came out of subcommittee in the last week. Most of the bills we are following were sent to House Appropriations to check their fiscal impact on the state. A couple of good bill (a nurse in every school and class size reductions for instance) will likely face a tough path “upstairs” in appropriations.

We are also nearing budget day. This Sunday the House and Senate will make their budget amendments known. We will get an official look at what will happen with school employee salaries. Our members have done a great job contacting legislators. Keep it up. We are hearing different rumors about what will be possible with state support for salary increases, but we are hearing something will happen. We must keep the pressure on. If you haven’t contacted your legislators, please do. We have an active cyber lobbyist alert. Make sure you take action. 

As I am posting this Daily Report I am listening to the VA Senate debate one of the many bills this session that will make it more difficult for some people to vote. It is disturbing to listen to the floor debate and to hear Senators, who support making it more difficult to vote, try to deny that Virginians whom are often most impacted by these ever-tightening laws are minorities, especially those who live in poverty. Voting is a right that should be protected. It should not be stripped away by legislation designed to make voting more difficult. I am jumping off my soapbox now, but SB872 just passed the VA Senate 21-19 on a strict party line. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

One More Full Week Before Crossover…

Next week is the last full week before crossover. There is a lot of maneuvering and behind the scenes activity to get all of the bills ready to head over to the other body. We anticipate a very long week of committee meetings and floor sessions next week. Your VEA lobby team will be here fighting the good fight.

We will see the House and Senate budgets on February 5th. There is a lot of talk and activity on teacher and support staff salaries. We are being pulled into meetings with both sides of the aisle trying to figure out what the state can do for SOQ funded positions. Some of the rumors are not great. Throwing spare cash into a bucket and saying, “Here you go!” when the spare cash won’t cover the full cost of a salary increase, and without any requirement that school divisions actually get the cash to our school staff, doesn’t get us where we need to be. We need to keep the pressure on for state support for at least a 2% salary increase for all SOQ positions. Contact your legislators, tell your stories. Take action as a cyber lobbyist.

There are some updates on some concerning bills. Senator Stanley’s school discipline bills (SB995, 996, and 997) would put strict limits on a school’s ability to suspend. The bills all were all sent back for a second visit to subcommittee in an effort to gain compromise on the bill so that school divisions would have some flexibility to keep classrooms and schools safe. The bills were amended to limit long term suspensions to 90 days (current language is 364 days) and to allow suspensions to go beyond a grading period. The subcommittee also rethought the prohibition on suspensions in grades K-5 in SB997 and amended that bill to limit the suspensions to 5 days in those grades.

Schools need resources to help support the student behaviors that lead to suspensions. We need social workers, psychologists, Assistant Principals, In School Suspension monitors, additional instructional aides, more counselors, and more funding for alternative education programs and family support programs. Without the proper resources in the buildings and in the community, we do not serve all of our students well. The state should have an obligation to support our schools in this important work. Ignoring the lack of resources limits the fixes that should be available to change course on suspension rates in Virginia.

The House versions of the same bills are all up this afternoon. Delegate Bell’s HB1534, 1535, and 1536 are identical to the Senate bills and we anticipate the bills will look the same after sub today.

Happy Friday everyone. We will be very busy next week. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Virtual Schools, Vouchers, Discipline, and the Governor

Today was VEA-Retired Lobby Day. I was grateful to be able to give our retired members a briefing on the VEA's top issues this session. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of members who really step up and advocate!

A long day of Education Committee and Subcommittee meetings today. The House Subcommittee Public School Innovation started at 7am in order to work through all of the bills they have stacked up. Two different approaches to full-time Virtual Schools reported. One is Delegate Dickie Bell’s bill that is identical to last year’s bill that Governor McAuliffe vetoed. It sets up a separate virtual school board that would be independent of the VA Board of Education. The Virtual School Board would be established as its own school division. The VEA continues to oppose this approach. There is an identical bill to this one in the Senate sponsored by Senator Dunnavant. That bill was up in Senate Education and Health but was passed by for the day.

The other approach requires all school divisions to make a full -time online program available to at least 2% of their students. In Delegate Bulova's HB1764, the local school board would maintain control of the virtual school and the student would stay on the local rolls. The VEA thinks this is a better approach, but it still needs some work, so we are watching this one for now. There is an identical Senate bill sponsored by Senator Petersen SB1380. That bill was passed by for the day in Senate Education and Health. Virginia is going to have to figure out how to offer a full-time virtual program. I am not certain either of these bills get us where we need to be, but we are at least working on it.

The Senate Education and Health Committee passed SB1243 which is a voucher bill disguised as a Parental Choice Education Savings Account. Senator Dunnavant’s bill is limited to special education and low income students.  Her bill is headed to Senate Finance for a review. The House version of this bill is Delegate LaRock's HB1605. That bill has no limits on qualifications to be eligible for a savings account. That bill passed the House Education Committee ans was referred to Senate Finance. Both are troubling bills that VEA opposes. .

This afternoon the Senate Education Subcommittee on Public Education will, once again, take up the school discipline bills they heard last week. Senator Carrico, the Chair, has asked the bills to come back to sub. These are the bills (SB995, 997, and 996) that would reduce the days allowed for a long term suspension from 364 to 45. SB997 would prohibit suspensions in grades K-5. The VEA opposes these bills. We will see what happens later today in subcommittee, but we are hopeful that bringing them back to sub is a sign there are more questions. Check back tomorrow for more.

Finally, this morning Governor McAuliffe went on the radio to insist that the General Assembly must do something for school employee salaries. The VEA is glad the Governor is taking up our cause. We need to keep up the pressure. Click on the link below to send an email to legislator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Senate Charter School Constitutional Amendment Gone, the House Version Remains

In an interesting turn, Senator Obenshain’s Charter School Constitutional amendment was striken at his request. That end the life of the bill in the Senate, but the House version remains. Might the Senate be getting their votes lines up so they can take up the House bill once it gets to them? Who knows. We do know that there are members of the Senate who agree with local control of schools, including charters, so maybe we can stop this effort this year. If we do that, we get at least a year off from the fight as the bill won’t come up in the 2018 session.

Today we got official word that neither the House Appropriations Committee nor the Senate Finance Committee will include state support for teacher raises in their budgets. That is not good news. That will make it 8 out of 10 years that the state did not include support for a teacher salary increase. Contact your legislators now and ask them to include the state funding. Tell them your story.
Lots of action in the Senate Education Committee in the morning including action on the VEA initiated bill SB1476 on Hearing Officers. Be on the look out here for an update.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bad Bills and Class Size

The early morning House Education Subcommittee's agenda looked like we had traveled back in time with some bad bills that are very familiar. Delegate LaRock's Education Savings Account bill (HB1605) is back this session and is bigger, and badder than ever. In past sessions, Del. LaRock has limited these vouchers to special education or low income students. This year his bill opens the vouchers up to everyone so long as you were in public school for the two previous semesters. Well.. unless you are an incoming kindergartner. They are eligible without ever stepping foot inside a public school. For kicks and giggles today, LaRock added a line that would eliminate the two semester requirement if a student had failed an SOL or been suspended or expelled.

The bill has serious Constitutional issues that Delegate Bulova questioned (and for which this bill was vetoed last session by the Governor). Delegate Bulova asked about public dollars to religious schools and Delegate LaRock explained the Constitutional cover this bill has- the state doesn't pay the school any money. The state pays the parent who then pays the school. So no direct payment of state money to private, religious schools. This bill has been found to meet Constitutional muster in Arizona's Supreme Court. Delegate Bulova reminded the subcommittee that while Arizona is a lovely state, we live in Virginia.

There are so many issues with this bill, but the subcommittee reported and referred the bill to House Appropriations where it will also, likely,  be reported.

Delegate Dickie Bell's Virtual School bill is also back this session, but so are some bills with a different approach to virtual learning, so they were all passed by for the day since members of the sub had to leave to go to other meetings. The Chair of the subcommittee is adding more early morning meetings in order to get through the 60 bills they still have left to consider before crossover on February 7. The sub has met twice so far, and only reported about 5 bills. They are very backed up.

The Subcommittee then took action on two class size bills, both of which were supported by VEA. Delegate LeMunyon's bill focuses on the SOQ staffing rations for classroom teachers, and Delegate Murphy's bill is limited to science laboratory classes in middle and high school. Both bills reported and are off to Appropriations where they face a tough road.

Tomorrow there are bills-a-plenty that VEA opposes including the Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools and multiple bills to expand our Tuition Tax Credit Scholarships. We will fight the good fight on those.

A reminder we have a cyber-lobby alert on teacher salaries. Make sure you contact your legislators and demand the state include state support, without the revenue reserve trigger, for at least a 2% salary increase. I heard more talk from legislators today on teacher salary. They are hearing us!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Rain...The Wind...We Were Not Deterred

In what has been described as the worst weather for any VEA Lobby Day in recent history, our members still turned out, carried our message, and told their stories! We were not deterred.
Just about 300 VEA members braved a morning that was quite unwelcoming to our group. Our members were armed with umbrellas, marching orders, schedules of meetings, stickers, and stories. Thank you all for your work today. You do more in this one day than your lobby team can do in a week. We appreciate it.

Today teacher salaries took the lead. Virginia is more than $7,200 behind the national teacher salary average. In fact, Virginia ranks 30th out of 50 states. VEA initiated legislation would put in place a state policy to bring teacher salaries to the National Average and our members were asking for support of that bill today. But they did more. This morning President Livingston hand delivered letters to leadership in the House and Senate Money Committees urging state support for at least a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions. President Livingston then gathered about 100 members in the Lobby of the House Education Committee to brief them on our current situation-there are no House or Senate budget amendments that provide state funding for any teacher salary increase. Our folks were fired up. We had solid coverage by the press, so be on the look-out on your local TV news and in your local papers. Well done VEA!

Lots of bills of VEA interest were up today in different committees. One highlight, the House Education Committee took up calendar bills and Delegate Greason’s bill (HB1983) reported.  Also reporting out of committee was a bill that would give more waivers for CTE teacher licensure (VEA opposes).

Tomorrow Del. Bell’s Virtual School Bill and Del. LaRock’s Parental Choice Education Savings Account bills are up in subcommittee. We will also hear more details on the Governor’s Virtual Bill.
Thank you to all of our members to traveled to Richmond for Lobby Day. Keep up the good work. Meeting with your legislator is not a “one and done” action. Build a relationship with them, invite them to your events, tell them your stories, make sure they know you, and offer yourself as a resource to them on public school issues. Let them know you are watching.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Inauguration, Quick Floor Action, and We Have a Hearing Officer Bill

We must acknowledge the peaceful transition of power that took place today and that takes place every four years. We honor our nation’s history and traditions. However, we must also acknowledge a divided country that has healing to do. We must acknowledge the fear and uncertainty many of our students are feeling. And we must acknowledge the very clear position of the new administration on public education. We must work to make sure every child in this country has the opportunity to attend a high quality, well-funded public school. We will not allow this promise to fade. #strongpublicschools

As is generally the rule, the floor action in the House and Senate wrapped up quickly. A VEA supported bill did pass the House and, frankly, we need to celebrate any small victory. HB1451 that directs the Department of Social Services to develop a survey to gather feedback from children aging out of foster care passed the House without a single “no” vote.

Senator McClellan has filed the VEA initiated hearing officer bill. This bill would require the Department of Education to develop and make available training for hearing officers in teacher dismissal cases. The DOE would then maintain a list of trained hearing officers. We will face a fight on the “maintain a list” portion of this bill, but the Superintendents and the School Boards will not fight the training. Click here to follow our bill as it makes its way through the GA.

I look forward to seeing many of you at Lobby Day on Monday. We have a briefing Sunday evening and Monday morning. You only need to attend one. Please remember that the weather looks dreary. Please come prepared for the weather. 

Monday is a busy day. As you are planning your day, please keep the following committee meetings in mind:

7:00 a.m.         House Privileges and Elections - Constitutional Subcommittee; House Room C, General Assembly Building- We will testify on VEA’s support of Redistricting Reform in VA. It is also Virginia2021’s Lobby Day, so that room should be packed. Click here to see the full docket.
8:00 a.m.         Senate Courts of Justice; Senate Room B, General Assembly Building- No VEA bills on the docket, but all sorts of bills to legalize marijuana if you are interested.
8:30 a.m.         House Education; House Room D, General Assembly Building- An obvious choice for our members. The docket is long and bills on local control of calendar, school nurses, and teacher licensure are all up. Click here to see the full docket.
12:00 noon       The House of Delegates and the Senate go into session. You can watch the proceedings from the Galleries. You enter the Capitol through the Visitor’s Entrance all the way down the hill on Bank Street.
1:00-4:00pm    Open House at VEA Headquarters! Please come by to visit.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lots of Action in the Senate and Potential for a Very Rainy Lobby Day

The Senate Education and Health Committee had a long docket this morning. In the middle of working through all the bills, the Committee heard a presentation on mental health services in Virginia. While things are improving, Virginia has a long way to go in addressing this enormous health crisis.

Two bills of interest to VEA came before the full committee. The first is Senator Barker’s bill that would change the Standards of Accreditation on instructional hours for kindergarten students. This increase in hours would require all school divisions in VA to have full-day KG programs by 2019. Right now there are only 3 divisions that don’t offer full-day KG. VEA supported this bill. But, alas, the bill failed on party line vote.

The big bill for us in this committee was Senator Dunnavants’ Parental Choice Education Savings Plan bill. This is a cousin to Delegate LaRock’s bill from last year that passed the General Assembly and was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe over Constitutional concerns. Dunnavant’s bill is targeted to students with an IEP. Parents would withdraw their child from public schools, and all of the state SOQ funding for that child would be deposited into an account for the parent to use for all sorts of “educational programs” that include transportation, SAT/ACT testing, and “other education-related goods and services”. There is no accountability tied to this state money that the student makes any type of educational progress or meets any established goals. State money with no accountability…

This is a voucher bill, but it is more concerning because there is no requirement that a parent enroll a student in any school. If they decide to enroll in a private school, they may choose a sectarian or non-sectarian school. State money with no accountability that can be used for religious schools. After confirming with the patron last night that the bill would “be heard, she refused to amend it, it will pass, and the Governor will veto it”, Senator Dunnavant asked that the bill go by for the day. We were ready, but now we will wait until next week.

In the afternoon the Senate Sub-committee on Public Education also had a long docket and took the following action in bills of interest to the VEA:

SB828- Senator Wexton’s bill directed at slowing down the school to prison pipeline reported after Senator Reeves’ similar bill was rolled in. VEA supports this bill.

SB995, 996, and 997- Senator Stanley’s bills that put serious limits on a school’s ability to suspend students or prohibit suspensions in certain cases. VEA opposes all three of these bills. As our members know, the resources and services schools need to support the behaviors that lead to suspensions have been cut from our schools. 

We certainly recognize the need to decrease suspension rates. Teachers want to teach, but taking away the ability of schools to make decisions to keep the school safe may have unintended consequences. Contrary to what Senator Dunnavant said, this is not a “classroom management problem”. We have a problem that starts with a lack of resources in our schools and extends to communities that struggle to support families and students in need.

There are many changes coming if these bills pass. First is reducing the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 days to 45 days, the other is prohibiting suspensions in grades K-2.

In other news, Delegate Bob Marshall’s Bathroom Bill died in sub-committee today. VEA was there to oppose that bill.

And finally...
The weather report for Lobby Day is looking as dark as the support for public education this year.  I wonder if Mother Nature is being paid by the Koch brothers??? Seriously though, heavy rain and thunder are currently forecast for Monday morning. Please come prepared for the weather. There is always a line to get into the General Assembly office building, and the area is not covered. What Mother Nature needs to know is that we are public school employees, it takes more than rain and thunder to deter us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Our First House Education Marathon

The House Education Committee had just a couple of bills on the docket this morning, but that didn’t stop the committee from running long. 

Our VEA President had his first opportunity to testify before a committee when he spoke in opposition to HB1392 (Lingamfelter) that would allow school security officers to carry guns. As he was leaving the podium, the Chair of the committee, Del. Steve Landes, welcomed Jim as the new VEA President and mentioned that the Committee was looking forward to working with him. A nice start, of course the bill reported, but still a nice moment. A reminder that courtesy can prevail even when you disagree.

The big topic in the full committee was the annual hearing on allowing home-schooled students to participate in VHSL interscholastic activities. Last year this bill passed the General Assembly only to be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. The bill reported from the Committee and will likely pass the House and Senate. We will have to see what the Governor does.

In sub-committee there were quite a few bills of interest for us. Del. Dudenhefer’s bill that would put a staffing ratio for school nurses into the Standards of Quality (SOQs) was one we were very interested in seeing. Right now, while nurses aren’t included in support staff, there are not required staffing ratios for the position. As you may know, this fall the BOE revised the SOQs with a required school nurse for every 550 students. Dudenhefer’s bill originally had some different ratios, but the VEA had a good meeting with him yesterday and talked through the BOE recommendation. Today his bill was amended to reflect the BOE’s revisions (and VEA's conversation with the Delegate) of one school nurse for every 550 students, and the VEA could get behind it. The bill has been referred to Appropriations, so there is not a lot of hope for a good outcome, but we are certainly glad to see at least one of the BOE’s revised staffing levels making it out of the House Education Sub-Committee.

After 3 hours, our morning in the House Education and Sub ended, just in time for the floor session to begin. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Action on Bills of Interest

Things are starting to get into a rhythm here at the General Assembly. The VEA is lucky to have a solid group of staff and leadership on our Lobby Cadre. This dedicated group covers every single committee and sub-committee during session- we currently cover 50 of them. Our good work would not be possible without them. In the coming says you will hear more about them in this blog, but know how much they are doing for our members during these busy days.

The minimum wage bills all went down in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor. The House bills have not yet been heard, but I can assume their fate will likely be the same. 

The House Privilege and Elections Sub Committee on Elections killed bills the VEA supported that would have allowed some flexibility on voter photo IDs. So, quick action on some important bills the VEA supported.

This morning the House Education Sub-Committee on Innovation started their very early meetings. There was only one bill of interest to VEA on the docket and it needs a little more work before the sub-committee is ready for it to go to the full committee. HB1414 (Austin) would allow for partial credit on SOL test questions where the students must identify multiple “right” answers. Right now, even if a student gets 4 out of 5 “right” answers, but don’t get the 5th, they get no points for the question. It’s all “right” or all “wrong” and we know that is not the way we should grade tests. Of course Pearson’s is going to charge VA for this effort, so there is a possibility this bill may die when it is referred to House Appropriations. But if we are willing to do the work in small pieces and wait until 2021, Pearson’s said they may be able to mitigate the costs. So lots of good discussion with some hope for change. There were many groups there to support this bill including the Superintendents. 

Busy day tomorrow in the House Education full committee and the sub-committee immediately after. President Livingston is ready to carry our position to the legislators on these committees. Please make sure you are making your appointments for Lobby Day. If you aren't able to come to Richmond, call your legislators' offices and tell them your story!

Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Back! Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools...and Gun Day Monday

We worked hard last year to kill the Constitutional Amendment that would have granted the Virginia Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools in any division in the Commonwealth regardless of the desire of the local school board. Sometimes the General Assembly is a bit like a dog chasing its own tail.

This session Delegate Rob Bell and Senator Mark Obenshain have brought back the exact same Constitutional amendment. Right now the Virginia Constitution grants the authority to establish and maintain schools to the local school boards. Local school boards have the authority to grant charters that fill a need in their community and have a solid, fiscally responsible, application. Taking away this authority is the wrong thing to do. Think about your school division right now. If you were told by the state Board of Education you must open a new high school next year, no matter your current budget situation, staffing, or student needs, what would be the implications? Stripping this authority from the local school boards is the wrong thing to do, and we will continue to fight the effort.

The House Education Committee met this morning. There were no bills of interest for us, but the committee did hear a presentation from the new Executive Director of the Virginia High School League (VHSL). Interesting information on their redesign and efforts to make processes easier for schools and student athletes. The presentation is available on the House of Education page.

We are inching closer to VEA Lobby Day. One week from today VEA members from all over the state will come to the General Assembly to advocate for our positions. Make sure you make appointments with your legislators now. The pace is frantic during session, so make sure you get your time with them (or their Legislative Aides).

Today was Monday, Gun Day. The General Assembly was filled with gun rights advocates and their firearms. Always an interesting day in Richmond. Early morning sub-committees start tomorrow, things will really start moving now.

Friday, January 13, 2017

VEA Member Toney McNair Honored and Two New Senators Today

Another day of very quick, but important, action in the House and Senate today.

The House of Delegates passed House Joint Resolution 727 Commending VA Teacher of the Year, and VEA member, Dr. Toney McNair. Such a great honor for such a great educator and a good man. Congratulations Toney!

The Senate swore in both new Senators (prior to the State Board of Election certifying the results, see previous post if you want to know more about that). The VEA recommended Jennifer McClellan in Senate District 9 and we could not be more thrilled she is now in the Senate. In the 22nd district Mark Peake was sworn in and the Senate remains 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

Congratulations to our two new Virginia Senators!

VEA bills start appearing on committee dockets at 8am Monday. Quick days on the floor are over for sure. 

Short Days on the Floor, For Now

A quick update from the General Assembly for Thursday. The post didn't make it up yesterday, but there is still little to report. Bills are finding there way to committees that are then referring them to the appropriate sub committees. With the number of education bills that have been filed, it is nice to have a bit of a slow start to get all of our ducks in a row.

There was a back and forth on the Senate floor between Senator Obenshain and Senators Locke and Saslaw over how quickly the State Board of Elections could certify the two new Senators. Turns out with a Friday state holiday and a Monday Federal holiday, things are backed up. Senator Obenshain could not understand why the state employees would not work through the holiday to complete the work.Senator Saslaw reminded the body that the requirement to have proper ID on Election Day delayed the certification by another three days since anyone who filled out a provisional ballot has three days to provide their photo ID. He reminded Senator Obenshain that the Senator had supported and backed the photo ID law that resulted in the delay. And that was that...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

And So It Begins...

At noon today the Virginia House of Delegates the Virginia Senate gaveled in the 2017 session. The first day is filled with ceremonial votes and introductions. Tonight at 7pm Governor Terry McAuliffe will deliver his State of the Commonwealth address. I certainly anticipate some updates on revenues and information on his plan to balance the budget.

One thing you will likely hear the Governor say is that K-12 was “held harmless” in the most recent cuts. Let’s put that in some perspective.

Yes, Direct Aid to K-12 has not been subject to the 5% to 7.5% cuts other departments were required to make. But the 2% salary increase that was included in the first year of the budget was tied to the state meeting the revenue forecast. When VA fell short, K-12 lost $134.4 million dollars in state funds to support those increases. The Governor has proposed state support for a 1.5% one-time “bonus” for SOQ positons, but there is no language in the budget that localities must implement this plan, and we know that localities would have to foot the bill for the local share of this bonus and cover the full amount for non-SOQ positions. K-12 also saw just over $102 million in losses from the General Fund that was supplanted with the same amount from Non-General Fund revenues (Lottery Funds and Literary Funds). And losses in average daily membership came to another drop in state funding of $85 million. So, yes, Direct Aid was held harmless, but don’t be fooled. Don’t get me wrong, we are certainly grateful to the Governor and his efforts to find additional money to fill the holes in the K-12 budget, but “harmless” these reductions are not.

Today in House Appropriations we got our first real senses of the path the House may take in their budget. The House Appropriations Committee received a presentation on the Governor’s proposed budget amendments. We have been hearing rumors that House Republicans were trying to restore the 2% salary increase for teachers, but there was some potential, and concerning, writing on the wall. Delegate Chris Jones, Chair of House Appropriations, asked what can only be considered a rhetorical question of his staff during the presentation. Delegate Jones asked if most school divisions gave the 2% raise anyway, and he got the answer he was looking for- YES. Most localities in VA were able to fully fund the salary increase even when the state failed to deliver on their share. Delegate Jones went on to ask, “Did the localities have enough time to rescind the raises once they heard the state would fall short in revenue forecasts?” Answer from House Appropriations staff, “Yes.”

I guess Delegate Jones wanted the packed room to know that teachers in many divisions got raises in spite of the state. Of course to make that happen, localities had to cut in other areas. Giving a teacher a salary increase and then saying, “Never mind, we take it back” is bad business and those divisions that COULD afford the raise locally, DID. But we know our most in-need localities, the ones who CAN’T, didn’t, and those teachers had the rug swiped out from under them. Not sure Delegate Jones’ comments are good supporting evidence that the House Republicans will be leading a charge to prioritize salary increases. We will no more in the next few days as budget amendments from members of the General Assembly are filed. Let’s hope they aren’t all going to keep up with the Jones.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ready or Not, Here We Go!

The 2017 session of Virginia’s General Assembly will begin at noon on Wednesday, January 11th when the gavel goes down in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. This is an odd numbered year, which means a “short” session of only 45 days. Don’t be fooled, though. I have found that the short sessions can be just as manic as a long session, and this one seems to be getting ready to prove my theory. VEA leadership and staff have been working hard meeting with members, talking to legislators, reviewing bills, and attending meetings as we get ready for what will likely be another tough session for our public schools.

As you may know, there have been changes at VEA during the last few months. Meg Gruber’s term as VEA President ended and Robley Jones, our long-time Director of Government Relations and our chief lobbyist, retired. Jim Livingston is VEA’s President and I’m Kathy Burcher, your new GR Director. So while there are new faces, the mission has not changed. The Daily Reports from the General Assembly will also continue with some new perspective and some new voices. While I will write many of our blog entries, be on the look-out for some special General Assembly reports from Jim Livingston, our Lobby Cadre, and our members.

So back to this session. Virginia’s budget has cast a long shadow. For many reasons that are still being studied and evaluated, Virginia’s revenues have come in below forecast. This has created a budget “hole” of just about $1.5 billion over the course of the 2016-2018 biennial budget. The Governor and, ultimately, the General Assembly must figure out how to fill the hole and balance the budget. As you know the state support for teacher salary increases scheduled in the first year of the biennium were tied to a revenue reserve. This “reserve” was required by law to revert back to the general fund if Virginia came up short on revenue forecasts. Virginia did, and the salary increase went into the budget hole as filler.

In his budget amendments, Governor McAuliffe did protect Direct Aid to K-12 from any additional cuts, and we are grateful for that. I am not sure how much more cutting our schools can take. The Governor also proposed a 1.5% one-time bonus for SOQ funded positions that would be paid in December 2017. While the idea of a bonus sounds great, it will take some tricky funding magic at the local level for that to play out and pay out. The VEA is committed to salary increases rather than one-time bonuses and we will work to get the increases prioritized. There are all sorts of rumors that we will see efforts to reinstate the salary increases that were cut. We shall see.

In the absence of money, legislators love policy changes and, so far, that seems to be the case. We will, once again, play defense on a number of bills including Parental Educational Savings Plans (a voucher), an expansion of for-profit virtual schools, and charters. Senator Obenshain has filed a Constitutional Amendment that would allow the State Board of Education to establish charter schools. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the VEA killed this effort last session. In order to change Virginia’s Constitution, a bill must pass one session, followed by an intervening election of the House of Delegates, then pass the session after the election. Had last year’s bill passed, we would have had a Charter School Constitutional question on the ballot this past November. The bill failed to pass the second year, but Senator Obenshain is willing to try again. The bill will need to pass this session, the House is up for election this fall, and then pass next session. We will work to kill it this year. So far, there is no House version of the bill, so this fight will focus on the Senate. Legislators can file bills until Wednesday, so we will see what drops.

As always, talk with your legislators, tell your stories. Your voice can make a difference.

I will have more updates tomorrow. By the way, tomorrow is Election Day for three General Assembly seats all of which are open because of General Assembly members being elected to Congress. The 85th district in the House of Delegates, and two seats in the VA Senate- the 9th and the 22nd- will be filled in Special Elections tomorrow. Specials can be tricky things, and turn out is everything. If you live in one of these districts, please vote. If you're not sure if you live in one of the districts you can click here to find out.